COVID-19, EHS Management, Emergency Preparedness and Response, Personnel Safety

COVID-19-Related Mental Health Strain Likely to Increase Workplace Violence

No one is immune from the pandemic, but there are parts of our society that are experiencing greater loss and impact than others. One of the most dangerous effects is also one that is the hardest to identify—that of ideation, often fueled by feelings of injustice, a lack of control, and extreme depression and anxiety.

Anxiety, depression

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In an emergency, it is vital that leaders and first responders have access to contingency plans, as well as clear plans on how to communicate with staff members and their emergency contacts, stakeholders, and local officials.

Our mental health is being strained and challenged. Most people are nonviolent, but we must recognize that the huge increase in stress, depression, and anxiety will unfortunately result in more violent incidents.

It’s important to prepare for and mitigate worst-case scenarios to ensure employees and customers can remain safe and so we can navigate the paths of differences and, one day again soon, unify.

As such, health officials and members of the World Health Organization are calling for an expansion of mental health resources. One study projected an increase of 8,000 additional suicides this year due to the economic effects of the coronavirus, with another projecting an additional 75,000 “deaths of despair.”

Already, we’ve seen several violent incidents stemming from arguments about wearing masks. As more businesses begin to reopen, the numbers and types of workplace-related disputes will only increase. This is a reality we must confront.

While mental illness alone doesn’t lead to workplace violence, when compounded with significant trauma, stress, and/or substance abuse (all of which are on the rise due to COVID-19), a perfect storm could brew.

Rethinking building configuration, flexible schedules, and health screening procedures represents only part of the solution. Employers and school officials need to confront the potential of a dangerous act of violence and have at the ready a design for a range of scenarios, from prevention to recovery.

Here are five concrete actions all leaders and environment, health, and safety (EHS) professionals should take:

1. Identify the red flags. First, form a behavioral intervention process and team. This team needs to ask questions so they can confidently answer:

  1. Is the behavior of the person consistent with the moment on a path toward an attack or a violent action?
  2. Does the person’s current or setting incline him or her toward or away from targeted violence?

Ever so important is the need to open the lines of communication among employees and help them become aware that such traumatic changes in their lives could leave them especially vulnerable to stress, anxiety, or depression.

By identifying and assessing concerning behaviors, employers can notice patterns, detect when things are amiss, and intervene before there’s an incident. Now is the right time for EHS professionals to champion wellness and mental health and review and communicate to employees the mental health benefits their health plans provide. These benefits are critical at a time when many people are feeling anxious and uncertain about their future.

2. Identify entry and exit points. As leaders rethink floor plans and office layouts to comply with social distancing, it is a good time to identify entry and exit points, potential emergency escape routes, and areas of the workplace that are particularly vulnerable to intruders. It’s important to also think how these new floor plans and layout changes could affect the flow of movement should an emergency evacuation be necessary.

3. Work with law enforcement now. It is smart planning to send over new or revised office blueprints to your local police and fire departments. In times of crisis, knowing the situation inside can save valuable time in responding to an incident..

4. Identify what to do and when to do it. Safety chiefs and leaders should develop a plan with their team that includes strategies on what to do should a situation arise. The plan should include how to respond at the first signs of danger, best practices to mitigate damage during an incident, and what to communicate to police or other first responders to help ensure the best-possible outcome.

5. Convert paper plans to digital ones. It is critical to digitize plans, procedures, and other critical documents and enable remote access (as we are experiencing now—everything on paper needs to live online). During an emergency evacuation or a violent incident, an employee or a student won’t be able to grab his or her files or computer.

In an emergency, it is vital that leaders and first responders have access to contingency plans, as well as clear plans on how to communicate with staff members and their emergency contacts, stakeholders, and local officials.

Our mental health is being strained and challenged. Most people are nonviolent, but we must recognize that the huge increase in stress, depression, and anxiety will unfortunately result in more violent incidents.

It’s important to prepare for and mitigate worst-case scenarios to ensure employees and customers can remain safe and so we can navigate the paths of differences and, one day again soon, unify.

JP Guilbault is the CEO of Navigate360. Navigate360 boldly confronts the challenges communities face by creating safe environments where they can thrive and focus on their true mission. Through technology, education, and services, Navigate360 offers solutions spanning the full spectrum of safety, from prevention and preparation to response and recovery. Navigate360 is defining a modern approach to safety using rapid innovation and unparalleled expertise to provide the solutions necessary to build safer tomorrows.